A selection of thoughts, observations and writings, taken from our day-to-day work and activities.
The Zero Emissions Livestock Project has developed technology that catalyses the methane emitted when cows belch, turning it into carbon dioxide and water. The device will also track emissions, allowing farmers to select for genotypes with lower emissions. Meat from animals in the scheme will be certified as ‘low emission’: two-thirds of mid- to high-income consumers are willing to pay up to 27 per cent more for reduced emission goods.
Many plant cells have the ability to regenerate a whole plant, a characteristic that tissue culture relies upon. It gives plants uniformity, whereas seeds introduce genetic variation. Date palms are traditionally cultivated through offshoots, but this is labour intensive and can spread disease. The United Kingdom is certified free of date palm pathogens, which has allowed an enterprising company from the south-west, Date Palm Developments, to pioneer the technology and become market leaders.
The European Union considers Xylella fastidiosa one of the most pressing threats to plant biosecurity. It’s responsible for several diseases in economically important crops, including Pierce’s disease in grapes, citrus variegated chlorosis and olive quick decline syndrome. At least 309 species are known to be hosts for the bacterium, but because it’s asymptomatic, identification of hosts is extremely difficult. However, diagnostics expert Agdia has commercialised a rapid, user-friendly DNA test that uses PCR technology to give a result in just 30 minutes. The test requires only crude sample preparation and the result is just like a pregnancy test: two lines show if the pathogen has been detected.
Nitrogen is often applied to crops in the form of nitrates. Plants find these easy to absorb, but they need to be transported to the leaf to be converted into a usable form. This is a carbon (and hence energy) intensive process for the plant. But British company Levity Crop Science has developed chemistry that holds nitrogen in the amine form. Not only does it require less energy of the plant, it also affects the balance of the plant hormones cytokinin and auxin. Amine encourages cytokinin production, increasing growth of the plant’s reproductive tissues, such as flowers and fruiting bodies.
In response to both consumer demand and national programmes to control antimicrobial resistance, global antibiotic usage in poultry is already on the way down. Using just the US an example, by the end of 2016, 33 per cent of its poultry was produced under ‘no antibiotics ever’ (NAE) protocols, compared to just four per cent two years earlier. Now French group Olmix has successfully commercialised a method that uses inherent properties within algae to provide poultry with a natural source of nutrients and supplements, in a renewable form, that address the five main functionalities: environmental hygiene, mycotoxin risk, digestive efficiency, digestive welfare and immunity. In trials with DUC, the leading French producer of certified poultry, both zootechnical performance and welfare levels increased, even in farms where antibiotic use had been historically low. Mortality rates saw a 20 per cent reduction, while slaughter weight was up 1 per cent. DUC has invested heavily in marketing to support the switch and consumers have embraced the change – DUC chicken is now sold with a “Thanks to Algae” label.